How could an organization force solar energy to be bought from them? Something like:

A large structure (in space presumably) fully/partly blocks sunlight reaching Earth, so anyone here wishing to unblock a portion must pay the price. Of course this introduces many more problems of heating, lighting, etc., but perhaps the organization is trying to encourage moving to their new off-planet habitat, whatever.

Does this seem plausible? What other scenarios could cause sunlight to be "owned"?

  • 13
    $\begingroup$ If they have the resources needed to block out the sun, why do want payment from Earth? $\endgroup$
    – KSmarts
    Jan 13, 2015 at 22:27
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Mr. Burns already tried to do so? $\endgroup$
    – Ghanima
    Jan 13, 2015 at 22:29
  • $\begingroup$ @KSmarts I dunno, tyrannical people always want more stuff no matter what! And maybe they need funding for the next dastardly plan. $\endgroup$
    – mjr
    Jan 13, 2015 at 22:45
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ "And maybe" hardly ever makes for a cohesive product. $\endgroup$
    – JohnP
    Jan 13, 2015 at 22:50
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ If you already have sufficiently advance technology, why not just sell energy/electricity gathered from the sun using microwave power transmission en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microwave_transmission $\endgroup$
    – tls
    Jan 14, 2015 at 6:48

9 Answers 9


I don't understand why everyone is saying a sunshield is going to be expensive.

You need something reflective. But molten metal blown up to balloon thickness seems reasonable to me. If you've got some robots set up for this, and some nickel-metal asteroids (or better yet, found some silver asteroids), it seems like this should be feasible and reasonably economic (say, compared to moving the Moon).

However, this is Not a good look, since you're pretty much going to fubar the Earth. Weather, ecosystems, atmosphere/water cycles, etc - see other answers for those effects.

I think you'd be better off just freezing the world, then going and getting what you want from the now cold, dead planet. Why bother with 'getting paid'? The only reason to do that is to coerce people to work for you, and if you massively screw up the planet it's going to be difficult to get people to work with you - or to trust them if you do.


A better look would be for you to start generating electricity at better rates than anything could be done on Earth, and selling it at massively less cost. If you've got a lead, and have figured your shit out - you will be the only power game in town - and that'll be an instant monopoly. Anyone else is welcome to generate power, but it'll cost them too much to play. This means you're going to have to undersell solar power, fossil fuels, nuclear plants, etc. You put all the utilities into serious decline - since most of them haven't really implemented grid rates (getting paid for their grids) and still rely on producing energy to make (most) of their money. You'd do this super-quick, toss of their stock into nosedives and buy them up. You probably need to read some on how corporation commissions in states handle those monopolies, as to what type of things you could expect to have to deal with. But if you came at them real quick, you'd own a large chunk (or all) of each of them (you can then force out small stock-owners with reverse-splits, etc. and large owners might've sold their stock when it went into decline (think pensions, mutual funds, etc)). You can also sell power only to utilities you like (ie: that you own / are cooperating with you) and force everyone else to trade with/buy from them.

This will have some effects. Namely, very cheap power for quite a long time on Earth. You'll want to keep the rates low so that you're the only game in town, and nobody keeps old nuclear plants, old fossil fuel plants, solar-cell producing plants, etc around to compete with you. You'll want to figure out a distributed power distribution system, so that people don't even want to bother with solar cells. After you've driven the competition into the dust, bought up and torn down all of their power plants, allowed the fuel distribution industry to wither on the vine, made direct power for every vehicle from your orbital satellites - so you now own all the gasoline stations, all the oil companies, pipeline companies, all of the car companies are beholden to you, etc. THEN you can start jacking up the price. If you do it sooner, you'll allow people to use old technology to compete with you. Or, you'll get someone who wants to run solar the way you do. You want to prevent growing any competition by being the best and cheapest, so that nobody can compete with you - until you have a huge setup, and can produce so much that you can stifle any competition.

This setup (roughly; Shipstones were better batteries, instead of power-gen) was the background for Friday by RAH. You'd have to pretty carefully look at the very few hints nosed around in that book, as the plot lines (mostly) ignore that.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ "I don't understand why...". Never use your ignorance / lack of understanding as an argument. "...why [is everyone] saying a sunshield is going to be expensive[?]" Because of the huge area you need to cover. Sure, a thin film does not use very much material for one square meter. But when you need hundreds of thousands of square kilometers of the stuff... and hold it in place... and prevent angry people whose sunlight you just stols from ruining it and make it the biggest tin foil ball you ever saw... the costs multiply exponentially and the zeroes keep adding to your expenditures. $\endgroup$
    – MichaelK
    Jun 19, 2016 at 10:09
  • $\begingroup$ I would also point out that this sheet of metal would have to be in space (otherwise people could just take it down pretty simply) and sending stuff to space is not cheap. Now getting all of that material together to make a sunscreen is going to be ridiculously expensive and without a doubt more expensive than any profit made by selling solar energy (if we're only concerned about the financial aspect). $\endgroup$
    – everyone
    Aug 3, 2017 at 12:37

Tax your energy use, even if you produce it yourself. I'm reminded of television tax in England. They don't cover your antenna with a faraday cage until you pay them; they send in the lawyers.

  • $\begingroup$ Politics definately seems the way to go; they do just this kind of thing already. $\endgroup$
    – Erik
    Jan 14, 2015 at 9:14
  • $\begingroup$ It's like copying bits. That's already free, it's just illegal if you don't have a licence to those bits. The best part about this analogy is that electricity and light are both electromagnetic radiation. $\endgroup$ Jan 14, 2015 at 20:21
  • $\begingroup$ Electricity is radiation? $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Jan 14, 2015 at 21:36
  • $\begingroup$ @jdlugosz Yep. That's why cell phones and living near power lines give you cancer </sarcasm> $\endgroup$
    – KSmarts
    Jan 15, 2015 at 16:37
  • $\begingroup$ How odd: a downvote out of the blue with no comment. And there doesn't seem to be anything wrong with the post. Maybe somebody doesn't know what votes are for on SE and is saying "I dislike this"? $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Jan 27, 2016 at 17:39

As already stated, the resources required to do this are so great that anyone capable of doing this would gain nothing out of pestering us to pay them. We on earth have nothing like the resources that would be consumed creating (and maintaining) a sun shield.

In addition if the shield was closed for any length of time at all it would ruin our ecosystem. Ignore humans for a second, all the plants in the wild would die or wither, those that eat them would likewise suffer, and the issues would propagate up. Our weather would also be screwed up (much of it is driven by the heat from the sun creating winds). The entire ecosystem of any area in shade would collapse quickly, and in turn ecosystems nearby would fail, a domino effect that would be quite drastic. We would end up with massive expenses just trying to survive the ecosystem collapse even if you only blocked light from areas that humans don't habitat in. This is an all or nothing thing, if we can't stop you from blocking any light we might as well let you block it all because we're just as doomed in either case.

A more probable situation is a structure on earth which blocks sunlight. Perhaps when we created the space elevator we discovered that it had some negative effects on light. Maybe skyscrapers blocked out the light of everyone nearby (we have had very small issues with this, and ironically we have had issues with skyscrapers reflecting too much light, creating death-rays of heat where they focused the sunlight as well).

Another option is to claim that so many solar powered satellites were put in earth's orbit that they started to block a non-trivial amount of sunlight. Each individual satellite is pretty trivial, but at the rate that we are producing space-junk theoretically enough satellites could one day orbit the earth to block out a small percentage of the sun. This wouldn't be so much of an "everyone on earth is in the dark" scenario as "everyone on earth gets 5-10% less sunlight, which makes everything cooler and still has negative impacts on society. Of course we already have programs in place to remove obsolete satellites, so all of these satellites would have to be active for this to be realistic, and it would be less of an intentional stealing of sunlight than an accidental side effect; which the goverment would likely step in to regulate and address pretty quickly.

You could likewise theorize that a space station or other large structures in near-earth orbit could affect sunlight similarly. Alternatively you could simply claim that we have messed with our enviroment enough that it has started reflecting sunlight (something similar to greenhouse effect in reverse, which could happen if a change of technology resulted in different pollutants being released into the air which reflected more sunlight then they allowed). This would result in a global drop in sunlight, but not be all that controllable.

Generally speaking, the only realistic situation where someone is desperate for sunlight is something that happens as an accidental side effect of some other technological growth. It is very hard to imagine any situation where it would be economically beneficial to do so, or something that a government would allow anyone to get away with for that matter. Likewise any blocking of sunlight would have to be something happening in near-earth orbit or closer, blocking only a small subsection of the earth.

The only way I could imagine this being intentional is if you claimed that the world governments collaborated to build solar shades for beneficial ecological reasons. Perhaps the rise of global warming and increased water levels were getting so great that we decided to raise a partial solar shade to block a small percentage of sunlight to cool the earth. This would presumably be a net gain for most of earth, negating part of the harm of global warming, but could still harm some individuals on earth who would prefer the increased light. This seems the most plausible explanation for why all the earth would be blocked, and why some would be paying or negotiating to have light increased. However, the key thing to note in a scenario like this is that the vast majority of light must be making it to earth. This would mean fighting over that 10% of light that is being blocked which would help my crops grow better, not avoiding freezing to death in the dark. Also note that there are many issues (enough to justify a separate world building question) that would need to be considered and discussed to make this plausible. For instance the solar shield would almost have to include solar panels which generated energy and fed it back down to earth, since we would need to make up for the lowered solar energy reaching earth's surface by relaying on far more electrical energy.


A city planet

Take Coruscant, from Star Wars. It's a planet covered entirely by one large, sprawling, complex city. I'm not sure if there's a canonical reference to how high the tallest buildings are, but from the seeing aerial$^1$ views it looks like they're taller than cities on Earth. Taller buildings mean bigger shadows; bigger shadows means more darkness; more darkness means less area on the ground - if any - to collect solar power.

On a planet covered in one city, the upper levels would become rather valuable, and not just as rooms with views. These rooftops would be the only places where you could gather solar power, because they would effectively drown out all other power-collecting locations. If you own a lot of rooftop space, you can generate a lot of electricity.

However, in a city planet, you'd probably have other sources of electricity, so you'd have to eliminate those before solar became the dominant power source. More to the point, could these panels really provide enough electricity to power the whole city? Perhaps, if there are auxiliary power sources that can't meet the population's demands, so solar is needed to fill the energy gap.

Now we have to figure out why solar is the only option. Here's how I'd eliminate the other sources:

  • Nuclear: No nuclear fuels are found in the planet, and they cannot be synthesized
  • Fossil fuels: The civilization consumed these long, long, long ago.
  • Hydropower: The planet is entirely land, which is why it was easy to cover it in a city. Where was the liquid water? There are some novel solutions to that, such as that the first settlers were extraterrestrial colonists.
  • Wind: The city has disrupted wind patterns around it, and nothing more the breezes can exist. Roof-mounted turbines are expensive and are not feasible because of maintenance issues.

$^1$These same scenes show that some areas are open, allowing light to go through, so Coruscant isn't the best example.

  • $\begingroup$ I do think you need to remember that Star Wars was a fantasy, with zero connection to real science. A city planet just doesn't work: if you could somehow build one, that would wipe out the life-support systems, and higher life forms would become extinct. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Jan 14, 2015 at 7:01
  • $\begingroup$ The example you're looking for is Trantor (or ecumenopolis). Which, IIRC may be the first time a world-wide city was contemplated. $\endgroup$
    – user3082
    Jan 14, 2015 at 7:40

I like the user3082 answer, definitely, make the price cheaper and you in the game.

After you managed how to build big structures in space - no problems with funding, no problems with people, there is a lot to sell: computer power, constructions in space, satellites, deep solar system missions, humans transportation, just plain materials in space. As being first you will get a lot of money from everyone.

But let say, shit happens, you will charge everyone, how to do.

You say, hey, earthlings, you have a problem with climate change, you fear your crops will burn out, the land will be covered by melting water from poles, winter is too harsh or too mild, sweating from hot summer. How lucky you are - call your government now 111-111-111, let them pay us, we will do the job.

So as for climate change countermeasures you establishing structure in L1 (Lagrangian point) which is 1'500'000km (0.01 a.e.) away.


The structure is a pretty big in size - something 14000 km in diameter. It does not have to be massive, and it does not need to be made from metal or be reflective. It can be made from transparent materials too - just focusing light so that it miss the earth - some sort of Fresnel lens maybe from graphene, prisms etc any optics also in the game. Using glass have advantage SiO2 is abundant, it's about 61-65 percent by element composition in the lunar regolith, with 28 percent of Mg, Al, Fe, Ti. So the lunar soil is a good composition for that - mirrors, optics, construction materials.

Let's say average construction is 1 ton per square meter. You have to have some control structures, to be able dim and illuminate different and precise areas of earth, but be not too precise, let say 5km spot is ok.


  • 14000 km diameter, 1 tonne per square meter This is a lot, 1.5386e+14 meters2, let say 1.6e+14

Energy consumption for glass production is around 9 GJ/tonne (from here, page 5), let say 10GJ/tonne

So production of entry construction needs 1.6e+24 J, mostly in form of heat. Probably it will be a reflective variant with a metal coating (easy like so, and optical prisms to compensate or even regulate the spectrum of light.

It is a lot of energy, but what helps is that we need just heat, that simplifies the process a lot. To be able to produce such structure in 1 Year, we need just 317 W of energy per square meter.
Holly moly, I have to recalculate:

10 GJ to produce 1 m2==1 tonne: 1e+10 / 365 / 24 / 3600 == 317.09791983764586504312 W

Very important number actually, specially in comparison with energy we have on earth orbit in space, which is roughly 1350 J/m2/sec or 1350W/m2

It is important because it means, such structure, when supplied with materials, may grow 4 times in surface area per year (4.2573 times actually, efficiency is already included in 10GJ/t, and it may be even better for larger quantities).
It actually may grow even faster because of a second limiting factor, after material supply, is energy collection. And heat collector is simpler structures, roughly speaking just thin foil of any metal available, from lunar soil, hundreds time less in mass and in production energy. Even or basalt-glass coated with metal will be lighter by mass per square meter and less energy to produce.

So exponential grow of our light management structure mostly limited by the speed of exponential grow of energy collector and our ability to get raw materials to that collector-processor for production.

Energy collector construction

Interesting work with glass, as you may see making desired form and complex, may be done simple, and without gravity, way bigger structures, and complex structures may be formed that way. Material for that is abundant, no need to refine, no need to process it chemically. Glass may be reinforced with metal, and other approaches to strengthen glass if needed.

As we need mainly heat, no need in solar panels, no precise machines in huge quantities, complex chemical processes etc, a just sheet of glass, coated with metal, which is evaporated by heat we collect.

Yes, you may have to have metal for actuators, simple processors to guide stuff. Actually, processors are not needed, an old Vacuum tube is ok for all parts. And it's a great excuse for some "miss-happening".

Where is my money

  • f this, take my money

Forcing to buy energy is a least interesting part, of what you may do, but if you wish:

  • as part of you care about earth climate and stabilizing temperature, you have to restrict solar energy input to some places. And as climate model is unstable and not linear and depends on bunch of factors, it so happens that our predictions show we have to dim that area, ahh there is your solar array oh so sad, but earth future is important etc etc. If model do not shows say its hardware malfunction, we working on improvements, but you know it's far far away.

You have to realize what it means, to have control over all light to earth.

It means not direct, but control over earth climate. Precise, flexible, fast control over the climate. We may not have good prediction model, if we may predict for a minute it's ok, it's good enough, we may just react and anyway we will get what we will. If you wish 1000 square km frozen in Sahara - it will be so. Wish melt iceberg - 1 sec phh done evaporated. Wish to disinfect large area from bio hazard - ultraviolet 1000000 times more then usual - everything will die in seconds. You wish for the pole to stay frozen, to save Amsterdam - freeze everything around that pole, freeze Gulfstream, make a big new pole in the middle of the pacific ocean(let it be night forever there). Control air flows mean control rain water distribution, and for Agriculture, it is very important.

When it's ready, or even in time of building, you may start to collect money. Forcing isn't interesting, because you will get way more just by doing what peoples like to buy, what they need and ready to pay.

  • too hot to live - cool down that city. I heard it's a problem in some places in the US as an example. Some places in Saudi Arabia are harsh to live, as I heard, and with global warming they may be too hot to live at all (I do not know true or not, but +45 Celsius in shadow may be a problem) China have problems in some places, specially after building some dam and messing with river flows.
  • save crops from burn out
  • restore ozone layer - less cancer less medical treatment save money
  • solar dependent energy generation - sell them 19 additional hours of sun shine, instead of average 5-6. It makes them 4 times more profitable, faster investment returns.
  • Illuminate them 2-3-4 times more, and with the spectrum which is most efficient for them - less overall heat more energy production in less surface area. (it will just boost their energy productions 10 times with same equipment, so they may sell it cheaper than anyone - who will not cooperate, will be just out of business)
  • boost crop productions, extend grow period, create 2 seasons for vegetables to grow. They will get twice crops as usual, or same in less space.
  • boost fish food grow in oceans - bust fish production.

Just take money from countries, they all have problems which may be solved with control over solar light. Just tax counties by 0.1% of their GDP for climate solving problem. It will be 70'000'000'000 $ per year. For everything else charge separate - I bet it could be done at least 10 times more such way.

Stability in L1.

To keep that structure in L1 reactive mass is not needed. Any perturbation will grow e times (2.718) in 23 days. That is true for a point mass, small objects. It means if the object is off by 1000km from L1 point position, in 23 days it will be off by 2718 km, 23 days later by 7389 km, 20000 km in first 2 months. Farther object is from L1, relatively bigger is the force. L1 is influenced by Venus(something around 300km in 23 days on closest approach), Mars, Jupiter, sun movements and so on.

That is true for this large structure too, but it has more control over that situation. Сounterweights on tethers will help in the situation. It's pretty complex stuff and I haven't calculated it deep enough to make oversimplification from results - but looks doable. Force it self is tiny, in absolute values - so even not strong materials will be ok for that all.

  • moon mining for building such thing is a separate topic, and probably most tricky part here, doable, but I will probably stop here.

Google for "artificial space clouds". Several kilos of lithium or barium, or some other alkali metal in upper atmosphere create a cloud a couple of hundreds of kilometers in diameter that take some ten minutes to dissipate and it can scatter up to several percents of the light.

So a sattellite with a gun and a hundred ton of alkali metals on board can block several percents of the light on quite a big area for a long time. Several percents of the light don't sound much but that would be enough for quite a climate change.

Update. That's how it looks

Space clouds

And you have to drop metal in upper levels of atmosphere. In open space it would dissipate in a matter of minutes.


Morlocks and Eloi

All the great nuclear powers of the world exist now as underground civilizations, the Morlock Nations, toiling away in bunkers deep beneath the Earth to use energy from sunlight to do vertical farming and industry, as they devote most of their resources to their topmost priority - building the bombs and missiles to destroy the malefactors who have reduced them to starving wretches hiding in holes - and to do it before those malefactors do it to them!

The Eloi, a tiny elite of UN mandarins who live above ground, enjoy the sunny sky and the slow death that comes from it. Suicides in the making, traitors to every nation, these sycophants of defeat and despair preach a message of peace and understanding to the world as if they were a virtue. And from France to North Korea, the tired and desperate of every Morlock culture line up to leave their sealed bunkers and beg for places in the UN palaces of peace and doom, to live among that sterile caste that declares it has a plan to restore the world. Many are called, and many are chosen, because the lure of the surface is the lure of death. Yet they keep coming, in such numbers that the Eloi can select carefully only those most malleable to their values using advanced fMRI scanning.

But the Nations, as much as they detest the Eloi, find that they need them. They need energy, they need industry, they need Bombs, as soon and fast as they can build them. But to build their own solar panels anywhere on Earth would be to invite their enemies to destroy those panels and all that lies beneath. So they consent to tap into the UN networks, strung through countless ancient towers and conduits all over the world. No honorable man loyal to his Nation knows where all the power goes, so it is almost safe to do that. In exchange, all the Nations need to do is to offer up a quota of their people to restore the ranks of the Eloi as they die, to swear not to harm them or destroy their power collection facilities, and (most offensive of all) to listen to their prattle and pretend to aspire to a peaceful future for humanity.

  • $\begingroup$ How does this answer the question? $\endgroup$ Mar 8 at 0:16
  • $\begingroup$ What other scenarios could cause sunlight to be "owned"? This was a scenario, no? $\endgroup$ Mar 8 at 0:56

Why go to all the expense of creating a huge solar shield when you've already got one? Just strap a few enormous rockets to the moon and maneuver it into a geosynchronous orbit! Instant solar eclipse all day, every day.

Now, granted, a solar eclipse is only in totality over a small portion of the Earth, but there's the threat. If anyone refuses to pay up, fire your maneuvering thrusters and place the moon over their state/country and park it there for the summer. After a summer without German beer, I guarantee you Germany will pay whatever price you ask. Start nudging it over toward France once Germany caves and explain to them that champagne doesn't really need to come from Champagne...

But don't stop there! There are some regions that may be willing to pay to have no sunlight for at least a few days per year. Make them pay for shade as well as making them pay for sun!

  • $\begingroup$ Wouldn't that have a lot of unintended tidal effects? $\endgroup$
    – Twelfth
    Jan 13, 2015 at 23:54
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ More blackmail! >:D $\endgroup$
    – IchabodE
    Jan 14, 2015 at 0:00
  • $\begingroup$ How much energy would it take to move the Moon? That seems more expensive than making a sunshield. $\endgroup$
    – user3082
    Jan 14, 2015 at 6:54
  • $\begingroup$ To me it's a matter of the raw materials as well as the energy involved. The moon provides the materials for the rocket and the fuel, and it becomes less expensive to move each time you do it. Also, it's hard to be sneaky about sending tens of thousands of rockets from Earth to start the sun-shield construction, whereas it's easy to justify sending mining facility self-assemblers to the moon. $\endgroup$
    – IchabodE
    Jan 14, 2015 at 17:35

A planetary scale structure blocking sunlight would be too large to make sense. Generally. However, if the planet is otherwise too close to the star to be habitable, such a structure could have been build by an advanced alien race or a golden age of technology civilization for terraforming. Sunlight payments could then be used to pay for maintenance costs. Which would be very large as it would need constant corrections to avoid colliding with the planet.

But the structure would probably still be controlled by the planetary government, colonial power, or an evil empire. Something vital to global climate would be owned by the "powers that be". Although a temporary situation where "the shell" gets hijacked by some other organization, which then uses it for extortion might be possible. But this really requires technology beyond what you'd probably be comfortable having available to build. The scale is that big.

Otherwise controlling solar power simply means controlling the places solar power could be built or having a monopoly on the necessary technology.

If the society has collapsed and technology is based on "magic artefacts" and "magical rituals" inherited by the Ancients, all available solar cells might be controlled by a single organization that owns the "magic forge" that allows their manufacture and whose inner circle has access to the proper rituals to operate the forge. Similar situation might exist if the technology was acquired from the Gods who came from the Heavens in their flying ships.

If people live inside an artificial structure and the right to go outside is controlled, the one controlling access to the outside would have control over who can operate solar power plants and the people controlling the structure would have control over where people can get their power. Space stations, arcologies, and underground shelters are examples of this.

If a world is advanced enough, all available land or the all the rights to build solar power might be owned. Practically, as people would probably retain rights to install solar power on their own house and property, this would imply a population density high enough that almost everyone would have to live in an apartment complex or arcology.

The simplest explanation would probably be that the organization has so much political influence that it is illegal for others to install or operate solar power. As solar power plants pretty much need to be visible from above in some way and require either large size or advanced technology, this would be enforceable.


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